Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, told Pukaar News that the Archbishop of Canterbury had invited him to discuss the flood situation and Christian-Muslim relations. As this was a private meeting the media and public were not invited, but on September 21 the UK Christian Muslim Forum organised a public event.
This time the media and leaders of both religions attended, along with representatives from organisations including Christian Solidarity Worldwide and the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement.
In his address Mr. Bhatti said that because of his political role he has been able to work on the five per cent job quota for minorities in all government departments. However, people from minorities in Pakistan and the UK have told Pukaar News that in reality this quota system is not working.
During his UK visit Mr Bhatti has not commented on events such as Gojra and the Shazia Bashir murder case. In July this year the Pukaar news team visited Gojra where people said that though many religious and political leaders made visits and promised justice for the victims they are still waiting. The houses the government started to build are unfinished, some still in the first phase of reconstruction. And the extremists who were responsible, involved in burning people as well as houses, remain unpunished and with freedom of movement.
After his speech Mr Bhatti left the forum for open questions from the invited guests, one about the floods in Pakistan. Observers report a lot of discrimination on the basis of religion in the distribution of aid items to flood victims. Mr Bhatti could not give a satisfactory answer, replying that he does not act on behalf of any religious organisation providing help to flood victims. Mr Choudry raised the question of the religion column in identity papers such as passports and again Mr Bhatti’s reply was inadequate. It seemed he was twisting words or avoiding the question.
After the meeting Mr Bhatti agreed to an interview with Pukaar News. The first question addressed his statement a year ago that Christians in Pakistan can safely practise their religion. A few months ago, in a telephone interview with a British TV channel, Mr Bhatti said he had been threatened by Muslim extremists and therefore his statement regarding the safety of Christians was misinterpreted by the media. He still says that Christians including himself and other minorities are not safe in Pakistan. However, regardless of threats, Mr. Bhatti says he is determined to work for peace and justice for his people and his country.
Our second question was that asked of Mr Bhatti a year ago: about the rehabilitation of Gojra, where people are still waiting for justice from the government of Pakistan. Again Mr Bhatti’s response did not satisfy Pukaar News, giving the impression that he is speechless on this issue.
At the end of the discussions Pukaar News interviewed the director of the Christian Muslim Forum, Mr. Julian Bond. He said he appreciated Mr Bhatti’s visit and hoped for a better relationship between the two religions in Pakistan, as in the UK.
The following day Pukaar News followed Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti to Bradford, to a well-attended event organised by the Diocese of Bradford and Wakefield, led by Canon Yaqub Masih and Canon Dr Arun John.
Canon Yaqub told Pukaar News that he has highlighted the issues of Gojra, of Aneela and Saba, the two sisters who were kidnapped and forced to accept Islam, and the Shazia murder case. However, during Mr. Bhatti’s speech none of these issues were clearly addressed. Rather he talked about inter-faith dialogue and harmony.
The minorities appreciate Mr Bhatti’s efforts in pursuit of justice and peace in Pakistan, but they want to see the Pakistani Government taking practical steps.